A public hearing is planned this week for plans to restore two Adirondack fire towers that have been designated as historic sites.
The fire towers are on Hurricane Mountain near Keene and Saint Regis Mountain near Saranac Lake. Last month the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation presented Historic Area management plans to the board of the Adirondack Park Agency. Wednesday evening the APA will hold a public hearing regarding the plans and their conformity to the State Land Master Plan.
Adirondack Architectural Heritage Executive Director Steven Engelhart says the hearings are the culmination of a long process to reclassify the towers and the land surrounding them. “They were a key to the way that we protected these wonderful, vast forests of the Adirondack region. Fire towers and the people that staffed them were the ones that really protected the forests in the region. The observers were also providing an orientation and education for people that would visit. As structures they’re very interesting. They’re actually made by a company that also made windmill towers. And you can see the resemblance. In their own way they are beautiful. They are utilitarian. They are increasingly rare. And there’s a lot of public affection for these wonderful mountain sentinels.”
Plans call for maintenance of the steel structures in compliance with the State Historic Preservation Act. New signs will be installed in and around the towers to tell the history of fire towers used by forest rangers in the Adirondacks. Martin Podskoch has written numerous books about New York’s fire towers and works with Friends of Hurricane Mountain. “They have been restored in many towns and villages in the Catskills and the Adirondacks and outside of them. In the Catskills there are five towers that are staffed. You get thousands and thousands of people coming to these towers. There are volunteers that do the work. They explain the history of the area. And it’s so important to be able to have our young children know how important these towers were in preserving our forests. We wouldn’t have the forests we have today without the forest rangers, the fire tower observers and the fire towers protecting all of our wonderful forests.”
Friends of St Regis Mountain Fire Tower has formed a steering committee to help coordinate the restoration of the tower. Co-chair David Petrelli says everything they had suggested has been included in the management plan. “The St. Regis Fire Tower specifically has a lot of history. It was the longest serving fire tower in all of New York State. It was one of the last few to be decommissioned, or taken out of service, back in 1990. It’s really a wonderful thing when you can restore them for public use and people can go up and enjoy them. The summit of St. Regis is a pretty open summit, so you have really great vistas from a lot of different directions. I’ve been fortunate to have gone up into the tower and you get a much nicer and unimpeded view when you can go up into the cab. It’s really beautiful scenery all around on that mountain.”
The DEC will have to inspect the structures and do any needed repairs. Full access is planned for both towers. The plan for Hurricane Mountain includes installing a radio repeater and solar panels to improve emergency communications for forest rangers and conservation officers.
The public hearing begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Adirondack Park Agency headquarters in Ray Brook.